Saturday, 30 March 2013


The area around Skipness Castle is redolent with legend and mystery. There is the long-haired spirit known as the Green Lady, who is reputed to have protected the inhabitants of Skipness Castle from danger by bewitching their enemies. In the woods near Skipness there were huntsmen who were terrorised by silent horsemen, along with reports of the sound of hooves warning of impending death. Finally, and most bizarrely, there is the manifestation of a holly tree that dances in the road, blocking the way for homeward-bound travellers.

Skipness is in the northern part of the Kintyre Peninsula, by the entrance to the Sound Of Bute, and is one of the points of interest on the Kintyre Way. The 13th century Skipness Castle is a ruin and as such there is free entry to it; there are information boards to help visitors make sense of the ruins. The castle has extensive views of the water towards Arran and beyond, which would have enabled it to defend the area from enemy ships in the past. The nearby St Brendan's Chapel is roughly the same vintage as the castle and its "graveyard with a view" has some interesting headstones and ancient burial stones. All this ancient heritage is fringed by an unspoilt beach perfect for walking along or peering into rockpools.

Map of the area.

Friday, 29 March 2013


The villages of Corrie and Sannox lie in the shadow of the highest peak on Arran, Goatfell, and there is a path starting near Corrie which ascends the mountain. Corrie got its name from the Gaelic "coire" meaning ravine. There are actually two corries: Corrie itself, which is strung out along the shoreline and the picturesque High Corrie, which enjoys magnificent views of mountain and sea. There are caves above Corrie harbour which are remnants of former limestone quarries, and were later used for boat building and repair. Visitors should beware of entering them, however, as they have been declared unsafe. Sannox has Viking origins, and was originally named Sandvik, or Sandy Bay, by them. There used to be a pier and light railway here when there was a Barytes mine nearby, but they were demolished after the mine's vein ran out. There was also a village in North Glen Sannox which became deserted in the 1800s when all the inhabitants emigrated to Canada. Some of the emigrants built a church in their new home very similar to the one in Sannox, which had only been in use for a few years before the emigration. There is a nine-hole golf course in Sannox, while walkers can set out from Sannox on a walk around Glen Sannox - details on the walkhighlands website. Corrie and Sannox are proud of their Viking heritage, and each year in August there is a Viking Festival.

Map of the area.

© 2008 wfmillar, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 26 March 2013


It is always fascinating to read archive newspaper reports, particularly those written during the war.  The August 15 1945 edition of the Glasgow Herald is full of reports of celebrations following the announcement of the surrender of Japan which marked the end of the Second World War in the Pacific, and therefore the end of the war overall (the war had ended in Europe in May).  In Brodick there was an impromptu church service at one o'clock in the morning attended by flocks of people who came "from along the foreshore, lit by the windows of boarding-houses and the V-flashing searchlights of warhips in the bay".  The report goes on to describe how the minister who took the service was woken by the hooting of the ships' sirens.  After the service church bells were rung, bonfires lit and flares ignited on the sand.

Brodick, which is dominated by Arran's highest peak, Goatfell, is the main tourist centre on Arran, largely due to the fact that it is served by the ferry service from Ardrossan on the opposite side of the Firth Of Clyde.  The town's attractions include a Heritage Museum which tells the island's history and an 18-hole golf course.  However, the biggest draw is Brodick Castle and its extensive grounds, located on the north side of Brodick Bay.  The present-day stately home dates from the 19th century, although the site was originally defended by the Vikings, and a castle was built here in the 13th century for the Stewarts of Menteith.  The castle has had many severe knocks over the years, whether on the part of the English, including the forces of Henry VIII and of Oliver Cromwell, or during the frequent clan skirmishes that took place here.   The interior of the castle is open to visitors, with many sumptuously furnished rooms on view, as well as the more mundane areas such as the kitchen and scullery, and there is also a dungeon.  The gardens are charming to walk around, while the surrounding country park offers a range of waymarked trails.  Probably the most unusual feature of the grounds is the Bavarian Summer House, which looks like something out of a children's fairy tale, with the exterior imitating tree roots and the interior covered with pine cones.

For events in Brodick and Arran, see here

Map of the area.  

© 2002 Nick MacNeill, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 24 March 2013


Lamlash is the biggest settlement on Arran and its main administrative centre.  It lies on Lamlash Bay, which benefits from the protection of Holy Isle, which straddles the outer reaches of the bay.  Holy Isle, where St Molias once lived in a cave, is home to a Buddhist retreat and can be reached via a 10-minute ferry ride from Lamlash.  The shelter afforded by the island was taken advantage of by King Hakon IV of Norway when he sheltered his fleet here in the 13th century, although he was given a pasting at the Battle Of Largs in 1263.  More recently, the Navy took advantage of the sheltered bay during both world wars.  The naval officers, who included future kings Edward VIII and George VI, availed themselves of the delights of the Lamlash Golf Club while in town.  There is a memorial to the Clearances in Lamlash, recalling the time that the exodus from the island due to the Clearances reached its peak.  In April 1829 a ship left Lamlash laden with 86 islanders and their possessions bound for Canada.  They settled in Megantic County, to be joined by other islanders in further displacements which continued until 1840.  The memorial in Lamlash was funded by a Canadian descendant of the displaced Arran inhabitants.

Map of the area. 

© 2007 John McLuckie, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 22 March 2013


The southern end of Arran is rich in history, particulary in the vicinity of Kilmory and Kildonan.  Near Kilmory is the ancient Torrylin Cairn, a Neolithic chambered burial cairn. When the cairn was excavated in 1900 eight skeletons were found along with a variety of artefacts.  Back in the village foodies will want to seek out the Torylinn Creamery which produces Arran Dunlop, a former champion in the British Cheese Awards. 

Kildonan, named after the Irish monk Saint Donan, lies at the south-east tip of Arran.  The village boasts one of the few sandy beaches on Arran, and offers wonderful views across to the coast of Ayrshire, to Ailsa Craig and the island of Pladda.  KildonanCastle, built by the MacDonalds, the Lords Of The Isles, to protect Arran's strategic position in the Firth Of Clyde, only retains its 13th century keep today.  The castle was used as a hunting lodge by the Scottish kings including Robert III.  In the 16th century the castle passed to the hands of the Earls of Arran.

Map of the area. 

© 2006 Peter Amsden, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 21 March 2013


The String Road, which I mentioned at the end of my last post, comes out at Blackwaterfoot on the west coast. Blackwaterfoot is a small village with a tiny harbour and a pebble beach on the shore of Drumadoon Bay. Just to the north of the village is Drumadoon Point, where there is an Iron Age hill fort, and beyond that is a cave known as King's Cave where, according to some theories, Robert The Bruce had his famous encounter with the spider. Also to the north of the Point is an impressive geological feature known as the Doon, a set of basalt cliffs with the characteristic columnar structure. As well as the hill fort, Drumadoon Point is the location of what is regarded as one of the best golf courses in Scotland, the 12-hole Shiskine Golf Club. Yes that's right, I haven't made a typo, there really are only 12 holes. This unique golf course started off as a 9-hole course, then work got underway to expand it to 18 holes, but due to the ravages of the First World War 6 of the holes fell into disuse, and it remains a 12-hole course to this day.

Shiskine is also the name of a village along the String Road just inland from Blackwaterfoot, which those approaching Blackwaterfoot from this direction may want to take a look at. The village has an unusual church called St Molios, which is also known as the "Red Church" due to the striking red hue of the stone used in its construction. St Molio was an Irish monk who, in the 6th century, lived a hermit's life on Holy Island in Lamlash Bay on the east coast of Arran. The interior of the church is notable for the woodwork on its ceiling, pews and wall panels, while its windows are graced with Romanesque arches, and there is some lovely detailed stonework - quite an elaborate interior for a church which has only been in use since 1889.

Map of the area.

The Doon © 2008 Ann Burgess, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 19 March 2013


I have a map of Arran with symbols depicting the main tourist sites, and one thing that stands out is the number of ancient sites which appear at regular intervals along the south-west portion of the island's coast. One of these is at Machrie Moor, which is home to six stone circles in varying degrees of collapse. Many of the stones have fallen, but some are still standing, most notably a group of three stones in reddish sandstone which comprise circle No. 2, the tallest of which is 18 feet in height. This is in marked contrast to the double circle No. 5, otherwise known as Fingal's Cauldron Seat, which is formed from low granite boulders in two concentric rings, the outer of which is more oval in shape. Fingal, or Fionn MacCuill as he is known by his Gaelic name, was a legendary giant and warrior, and according to local lore he used a stone with a hole in it in the outer circle to tether his dogs while he ate a meal in the inner ring. Some people have suggested that the double circle served as the focus of the site. The stones are reached from the main A841 road via the farm track known as Moss Farm Road - the walk from the small car park provided for visitors is just over a mile. Surprisingly for such an eminent ancient site, there is no Visitor Centre, but there are Historic Scotland information boards to help visitors interpret the site. Nearby Machrie Bay is home to a stunningly situated golf course with fabulous views across the Kilbrannan Sound to the Kintyre Peninsula. Anyone wanting to visit Machrie from the island's main town, Brodick, can reach it via the scenic String Road, built by Thomas Telford in 1817 to connect the east and west coasts.

Map of the area.

Saturday, 16 March 2013


The ferry crossing from tiny Claonaig on the east coast of the Kintyre Peninsula to Lochranza on the Isle of Arran takes just 30 minutes, so that it is possible to visit Arran on a day trip from Kintyre, as we did a few years ago. That said, there is plenty on the island to warrant a longer stay. Arran has a different feel to it from most other Scottish islands, mainly because it is protected from the full fury of the ocean by its location, nestling in the Firth of Clyde and with the Kintyre Peninsula to the west, Rothsay and Bute to the north, and the coast of Strathclyde to the east. Arran is sometimes referred to as "Scotland in Miniature", having its own store of granite peaks, wooded glens, waterfalls, wide beaches, ancient sites and more. As its name suggests, Lochranza is situated on a loch - Loch Ranza. The shoreline is dominated by Lochranza Castle, originally built by the MacSweens in the 13th century, although the present structure dates from the 16th century. There is an abundance of wildlife in the area, most notably the red deer, which sometimes stray on to the golf course, but also the more elusive sea creatures such as seals and otters, while golden eagles have been spotted overhead. The village is home to a Field Studies Centre as well as a Visitor Centre for the Isle Of Arran Distillery.

Map of the area.

© 2010 Chemako0606, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 14 March 2013


On the way from Campbeltown to Carradale, the hamlet of Saddell overlooking Kilbrannan Sound makes an interesting detour for history buffs. Firstly, there is Saddell Abbey, or what remains of it, which is not a lot. The abbey was founded in the mid-12th century by Somerled, King Of The Isles, a warlord who is credited with having liberated Argyll and Kintyre from the Vikings. Although not much remains of the abbey itself, there are some impressive carved tombstones dating from between 1300 and 1560 depicting galleys, warriors and priests. The other highlight at Saddell is Saddell Castle, built for the Bishop of Argyll in the early 16th century and taken over by the Campbells in the 17th century. The castle fell into a poor state after the Campbells moved into a new abode, but in the 1970s the Landmark Trust took it over and restored it to its former glory. Now, if you're feeling a bit flush, it is possible to stay at the castle which boasts fantastic views across the Sound to the Isle of Arran. The castle featured in the video shoot for Paul McCartney's Mull Of Kintyre.

Carradale is a pretty village with a small harbour, and also offers wonderful views of Arran. The Network Carradale Heritage Centre has displays on fishing, farming and forestry. There are woodland walks starting from here, as well as in the nearby Carradale Forest. Alternatively, you can walk to Carradale Point, where there are remains of a fort dating from 1500BC. The ruins of Aird's Castle are near the harbour. Carradale Bay has a lovely sandy beach, while there is a smaller beach at Port Righ Bay. For fans of old photographs, the village has a website called The Carradale Goat which has an array of old photographs of the area and its inhabitants, ranging from black and white photos taken in the early 1900s to colour images from the 1960s and 1970s.

Map of the area.

© 2004 Johnny Durnan, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 12 March 2013


Campbeltown, on the lower east coast of the Kintyre Peninsula, used to be called Kinlochkilkerran, a Gaelic name arising from its location at the head of a loch, but it was renamed Campbeltown after Archibald Campbell, Earl of Argyll, was granted the site in 1667. The town became important for fishing, shipbuilding and distilling, but is now principally a centre for tourism and sailing. Two distilleries remain open, one of which, the Springbank Distillery, offers tours during the summer. At the head of the loch is Island Davaar, which can be reached on foot at low tide, with its lighthouse built in 1854 by the Stevensons. Near the lighthouse is a relic of World War II in the form of a lookout from which navy personnel were tasked with protecting Campbeltown by means of anti-submarine nets. The island is dotted with caves, seven in all, one of which is known for its cave painting depicting the crucifixion, which dates from the late 19th century. In 2006 the painting was defaced by someone who thought it was a good idea to superimpose an image of Che Guevara on it. However, the good news is that it has since been restored. Back in the town, there is a museum with archaeological finds and works of art, including two paintings by local artist William McTaggart. There is also a heritage centre telling the history of Kintyre. Being towards the end of a long peninsula, Campbeltown is not the easiest place to get to, but it does have its own airport near Machrihanish, offering flights to Glasgow, and there is a ferry service linking it to Ballycastle in Northern Ireland. The big event of the year in Campbeltown is the Mull Of Kintyre Music Festival, which takes place in August each year.

For other events in the Campbeltown area, see here.

Webcam view of the loch

of the area.

© 2009 Leslie Barrie, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 10 March 2013


The Mull of Kintyre must be one of the best known geographical features in Scotland. This is in large part thanks to a certain ex-Beatle who moved to the area after the band split up and was so entranced by his new surroundings that he wrote a love song to it called, simply, Mull Of Kintyre, waxing lyrical about the "mists rolling in from the sea" to a suitably Scottish sounding backing. The Mull of Kintyre is the south-westernmost tip of the Kintyre Peninsula. It is a while since I went there but my overriding memory is of the journey to get to it rather than the headland itself. This involves following a minor road from the small village of Southend, which wends its way through a sparsely populated rural landscape before emerging onto a car park from which there is a short walk out to the now automated lighthouse. From here there are stupendous views across to Rathlin Island and the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland. Apart from the lighthouse, the most notable man-made feature on the headland is the memorial to those who died in a Chinook helicopter crash in 1994. 25 passengers and 4 crew were killed in the crash, which was attributed to pilot error, although this was strongly disputed. The mists so eloquently recalled by Paul McCartney have been blamed for many air crashes, and the remains of a number of World War II planes are scattered around the area. The lighthouse on the Mull Of Kintyre was designed and built by Thomas Smith and completed in 1788, although it was rebuilt the following century.

Map of the area.

© 2007 Steve Partridge, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 8 March 2013


The road which hugs the west coast of the Kintyre Peninsula veers inland towards Campbeltown just as it reaches the northern end Machrihanish Bay, which means it can easily be overlooked by visitors exploring the peninsula. This would be a pity, since the bay here is magnificent, consisting of a gently curving 6-mile stretch of sand and dunes. The beach is a magnet for surfers, walkers and beachcombers, and in summer the grasses in the dunes are studded with wildflowers. For wildlife enthusiasts, there is a Seabird and Wildlife Observatory equipped with a sea-watching hide for all-weather wildlife viewing. The Observatory provides assistance with identification and lists reports of sightings, which have recently included a first-time appearance by a Surf Scroter - a large sea duck. There are also wild goats in the area, and in the sea seals and occasionally otters. The other main leisure activity on offer here is golf. Machrihanish has its own golf club, which is reckoned to be one of the best in the world. Just outside Machrihanish is an airfield which used to be an RAF station, but is now known as MOD Machrihanish and includes the airport serving Campbeltown. Going back in time, in 1905 the Canadian Reginald Fessenden built a radio transmitting station here and used the station with its 400-foot high mast to exchange a number of messages with a station in Massachusetts USA by Wireless Telegraphy. However, the station was short-lived, falling victim to a winter gale the following year. One of the best-known sons of this area was William McTaggart, one of Scotland's finest painters, who was born at Aros Farm near Machrihanish and whose works included an atmospheric painting called Machrihanish Bay.

Map of the area.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013


My husband and I once spent a week in a rented cottage - a former schoolhouse - in the tiny hamlet of Bellochantuy on the west coast of the Kintyre Peninsula. There was not a lot to the hamlet apart from a sprinkling of houses and a hotel right next door to the cottage, and we were concerned that we might be bored in the evenings, as we normally go in for bigger places with a range of pubs and restaurants, but we need not have worried as it turned out to be one of our best holidays ever. We knew we were in for a different kind of stay when on arrival we were greeted by a strange looking bird: too big for a duck, the wrong shape for a goose, we never did work out what it was. It had a reputation for hanging around outside the kitchen of the hotel begging for scraps. One day I made the mistake of offering it food, and there ensued an entertaining interlude with me being chased around the garden by it. The cottage was right by the beach, and the conservatory and garden at the back offered a wonderful view of the islands including Islay and Jura, and on a clear day the coast of Northern Ireland. One evening we were treated to an amazing sunset, made the more so by the silhouettes of the islands against the orange sky. We made many trips up and down the coast of the peninsula during the week, and all the while I had my eyes turned to the shoreline hoping for a glimpse of an otter as I had read that they were occasionally seen in these parts, but to no avail. Then, literally on the last morning as we were loading our luggage into the car for our departure, I happened to glance out at some rocks a short distance from the beach, and I noticed two creatures frolicking in the water. At first I thought they were seals, but they seemed the wrong shape and size. Then it suddenly dawned on me - they were otters! I frightened the living daylights out of my husband, who was in the bathroom, with my shouts and screams. And then, sadly it was time to leave. So there you have it: Bellochantuy, a place not many people will have heard of, but which will always have a special place in my holiday memory banks.

Map of the area.

© 2009 Leslie Barrie, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 4 March 2013


Heading south from Seal Point the A83, which hugs the west coast of the Kintyre Peninsula, passes through Tayinloan, best known for the ferry service linking the peninsula to the island of Gigha, before passing through the hamlet of Muasdale. A few miles further south is Glenbarr Abbey, in reality more of a stately home than an abbey, which is home of the Macalister Clan Visitor Centre. The original Barr House, seat of the Macalisters of Glenbarr, was added to by Colonel Matthew Macalister, 1st Laird of Glenbarr, who built a tall Gothic Revival block and a shorter service wing, all of which gives the Abbey a curiously "stepped" appearance. The grounds surrounding the Abbey offer lovely riverside and woodland walks. The building itself houses a fascinating collection of exhibits from life in the 18th century, including period clothing, toys and jewellery. There is also a pair of gloves worn by Mary Queen of Scots. The Abbey lies on the edge of the village of Glenbarr, which consists of a street with single-storey cottages and a church, on the north side of the Barr Water valley.

Map of the area.

© 2006 Anne Littleson, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 2 March 2013


When my husband and I were staying in a cottage on the Kintyre Peninsula a few years ago we made many trips up and down the road running along the west coast of the peninsula, and he was driven mad by my insistence on stopping at Seal Point each time. Often one has to go on a boat trip in order to have any chance of seeing seals, but here it is possible to park up, grab the binoculars and wander down to a suitable spot for viewing the seals as they lounge around on the rocks in a variety of comical poses, gazing across at their admirers, no doubt wondering what all the fuss is about. The other point of interest here is that the area between the car park and the bay is occupied by an Iron Age dun, or fort. Seal Point lies on the Kintyre Way, a walking route which runs the length of the Kintyre Peninsula from Tarbert in the north to Dunaverty in the south. The walk is 87 miles long in total and can take up to a week depending on the amount of dallying involved.

Map of the area.

© 2006 Steve Partridge, via Wikimedia Commons